Friday, October 12, 2012

October 13 - 20, 1962
Fifty Years Later 


Saturday, October 13 -- the first “working day” (General Congregation) for all the Council Fathers – began at 9:00 am in the Council aula in St. Peter’s Basilica.  It lasted only fifty minutes!
             Ten “commissions” had been established to prepare the Council’s final texts:

On Doctrine, Faith and Morals   
On Bishops and Dioceses
On the Oriental Churches
On the Sacraments                        
On the Clergy and Laity                                  
On Religious Men and Women
On the Missions                              
On the Sacred Liturgy
On Seminaries and Schools
On the Lay Apostolate, the Press
                         and Entertainment

At the conclusion of the Saturday morning Mass, each Bishop had at his place three booklets: a booklet with a complete listing of all the Council Fathers; a booklet listing those Bishops who had served on each Commission during the preparatory phase (the so-called “Curial list”); and a booklet with blank spaces for voting, in which each Bishop was asked to list, by hand, sixteen candidates of their choice for each of the ten Commissions.

              The German Bishops, led by Joseph Cardinal Frings of Cologne, had discussed alternative candidates – not from the “Curial list” but nominated from each national episcopal conference.  Achille Cardinal Lienart, president of the French Bishops, agreed – and as the voting procedures that Saturday morning were being explained to all the Bishops, Cardinal Lienart rose to ask that the Council Fathers be given more time to study the qualifications of candidates for the 160 important offices on the ten Commissions.  His motion was seconded by Cardinal Frings.

Prolonged applause followed both interventions.

The Council was adjourned until 9:00 am on the following Tuesday, so that on Sunday and Monday, October 14 and 15, the Bishops could meet in their national or regional conferences. 

                By Tuesday morning, a leaflet was distributed to all the Bishops which contained the names proposed by the various national episcopal conferences as candidates for the Commissions.  The well-organized list of the French, German, Austrian and Swiss Bishops was supported by the Bishops of Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, as well as those of Poland and Yugoslavia. 

The Bishops from Italy agreed on a list which gave wide representation to the different nationalities.  The United States’ Bishops, after meeting at the North American College, had drawn up their own list of candidates, having consulted with various national hierarchies. The Asian and African Bishops also composed their own lists.

                In the Council hall on Tuesday morning, each Bishop voted independently; after three days of counting the hand-written ballots, the members of the Commissions were announced at the 3rd General Congregation on Saturday, October 20.  Unexpectedly, in the “tumultuous” first days of the Council, the Bishops had elected Commission members international in scope and varied in pastoral experiences -- a step that theologian Fr. Yves Congar called “the first substantive Conciliar action.” African Archbishop (later Cardinal) Bernardin Gantin of Benin said the events of the first days “opened the way to the spirit of collegiality” among the Council Fathers.  Reportedly, Pope John agreed: “You have done right in expressing your thoughts aloud; that is why I have called the Bishops to a Council.” 

                Their next task would be discussion of the schema on the Sacred Liturgy.

( Next Week: The Press at Vatican II )                                                       -- Monsignor John T. Myler

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